Release date: April 1, 2022
Van der Linden Recordings
By Greg Easterling
Photo: Mike Hoffman
It's the thirteenth time around for Mississippi Heat and we are all in luck with the special delivery of Madeleine, one of the band's best and most personal efforts. The release of Madeleine also marks the thirtieth anniversary of MH, one of Chicago's longest running blues collectives, founded and nurtured by resident harp maven Pierre Lacocque.
His initial inspiration literally came through the air one night while wandering the streets of Hyde Park as a youngster and hearing the sound of Big Walter “Shaky” Horton's harmonica playing in the distance. That near cinematic moment would eventually lead to the formation of MH in 1991 with Chi-town blues mainstays Bob Stroger and Robert Covington. Since those early days, MH has expanded to include a veritable Who's Who of Chicago blues, several of whom have returned to guest on Madeleine.
All twelve recently-recorded original songs come from within the band with most of them penned by Pierre. There's two more by guitarist Michael Dotson, and one by longtime MH singer Inetta Visor.
Madeleine kicks off with a driving opener in “Silent Too Long,” a very effective start to get the musical proceedings on the right note. Guitarist Giles Corey provides an insatiable groove paired with Chris Cameron on Hammond B-3 punctuated by Pierre on harp. MH alumnus and veteran blues man Carl Weathersby returns on lead vocals as a special guest. A onetime regular presence on the local blues scene, it's great to have Carl back as he carries the chorus forward, “You talk too much/I can't get a word in!”
Leave it up to Pierre to go “Batty Crazy” next as Daneshia Hamilton steps up to sing for the first time. She passes the audition with flying blues colors as Giles again solos. Kenny Smith and Johnny Iguana supply the rhythmic support on drums and organ respectively. Batty crazy stands for the way the object of this song makes everyone else feel! Giles and Pierre are especially out front instrumentally as Daneshia shines on vocals.
The invited horns step up next on the song with the most exotic title “Havana En Mi Alma”, dedicated to Pierre's wife Victoria whose painting is featured on the cover of Madeleine. Inetta weighs in the first time vocally, a strong performance supported by the guest horn section of Kirk Smothers on sax and trumpeter Marc Franklin who also did the horn arrangements. Carl puts his stamp on the song with an ear-catching guitar intro.
“Uninvited Guest” is Pierre's way of referring to real life depression that is sometimes characterized as the blues and musically this is the real Chicago blues for sure. Special guest Lurrie Bell makes his appearance vocally and on guitar. It's a great choice because there's nobody currently in town who can evoke the classic Muddy and the Wolf Chicago blues sound like Lurrie. Pierre is insightful in his writing here, “No one knows how I blue I get/I look good on the outside but on the inside I have an uninvited guest”. Notable solos by Lurrie and Pierre are on display here as well.
“Nothing I Can Do” speeds up the tempo and anxiety level with its another woman blues theme sung by Daneshia. Lurrie is back on guitar again and Pierre’s harp shines with a song-ending solo. The full horns return on “Empty Nest Blues” along with Inetta singing and great backing vocals by Nanette Frank, Diane Madison and Mae Koen -- who have done the same for Aretha Franklin, Otis Clay and Stevie Wonder. Marc Franklin solos again on trumpet.
Next, we're “Ridin' On A Hit,” another Pierre original like most of the songs on Madeleine. It's the story of a band on the road and on a roll musically, the kind of activity that was shut down over the last two pandemic slowed years. It's a song that is as hopeful for better times ahead as it is for good times past. Daneshia and the backing singers work well together here.
Guitarist Michael Dotson shows up next on a song he wrote, “Everybody Do Somethin'.” Michael sings and plays lead guitar both here and on “Truth Like Rain,” one of the album's longest tracks at 5:34. The basic MH band cooks on these cuts as well with Brian Quinn on bass, Terrence Williams on drums, and Pierre on harp.
Nine songs deep and it's time for the title track, “Madeleine” a slower, expressive instrumental named for Pierre's maternal grandmother. Linda Cain's liner notes tell the tale of this extraordinary woman whose life was marked by strength and loss in the era of World War I and II. The band pulls together here for an especially strong performance on this poignant song without words.
On “At The Lucky Star” the mood lightens with more vocal fireworks from Daneshia and the backing singers. Kirk Smothers solos on sax first while Pierre takes his turn later. The horn section helps drive this song with additional percussion by Ruben Alvarez.
Longtime MH featured attraction Inetta closes Madeleine with some good “Trouble,” her original contribution to the album. “Like a Phoenix rising out of the rubble,” she shines vocally with the call and response vocals of Frank, Madison and Koen, known collectively as NADIMA.
Like a lot of worthwhile efforts, Madeleine was recorded in the early pandemic days of November, 2019 before things shut down. Pierre co-produced with Michael Freeman at
V.S.O. P. Studios in Chicago and the album was mastered by Paul Blackmore in Nashville. This year of 2022 finds MH back out performing with guitarist Tom Holland joining
the band and a fine new recording in Madeleine to promote. It's thirty years down now with hopefully many more to go as Chicago's Mississippi Heat takes their message of hope and musical good vibes to the world once again. What could be better?
For info or to buy the music:
About the Author: Greg Easterling is a veteran Chicago radio air personality and media member of the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame. He is the host of American Backroads on WDCB, 90.9 FM in the Chicago area, Thursday nights at 9 p.m. Greg spins funk and fusion jazz rock, on the Friday into Saturday overnight shift, on WDCB from 12 mid-5 a.m.